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Comprehensive views from islanders on future reform of ferry governance could be made public within 10 days, if Scottish Government sticks to its agreed timetable.

That’s according to Stornoway’s Angus Campbell, chair of the ferries communities board, who is leading consultation work for the Scottish Government on Project Neptune.

Project Neptune has been looking into future reform of Governance structures which control the delivery of ferry services on the Clyde and Hebrides network.

In September 2022 consultants Ernst and Young LLP submitted a review of options for the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services network to ministers, following which the then transport minister, Jenny Gilruth MSP, committed to full consultation with communities led by Angus Campbell, with the support of Transport Scotland.

Angus has been travelling around the Scottish islands since January, asking people who use ferries regularly how changes to governance of the ferry network could enhance passenger experience, support local communities and be accountable, transparent and capable of achieving best value.

He submitted his report to Scottish Government in early June and was told by Transport Scotland that it would be published within a month – a schedule which he is keeping under close watch.

Speaking to yesterday (Monday 26 June), Angus said: “I would not like to see publication of the report going beyond that deadline, and I am unable to share any of the findings of my research until the report is published.

“But there are common themes which clearly emerged during the research, which included that services should be designed from the community upwards, instead of having a service given to us.

“Providers should be asking ‘what do you need’, instead of which we currently feel we’re just being given the service, with no input on how it is designed or implemented.”

Lack of consultation with the people who best understand how the ferry service impacts islanders has revealed weaknesses over and over during the continuing crisis of vessel availability, which last weekend led islanders from South Uist to take their protests to Glasgow.

Yesterday, the cross-party net zero, energy and transport committee at Holyrood published the findings of their own inquiry into a modern and sustainable ferry service for Scotland.

They said they had discussed the urgency of the need for change and said: “The forthcoming Islands Connectivity Plan represents the chance for a genuinely fresh start. The Scottish Government must seize this chance to create a vision for island connectivity starting again from first principles.

“It is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to prove it is listening to ferry-dependent communities and committed to delivering a service that meets their needs. To that end, it must be comprehensive, cohesive and collaborative.

“…We urgently need better performance metrics to drive improvement and create more trust in the service. The root causes of the current problems include an ageing fleet, lack of resilience, increased usage and a pass-the-parcel of responsibility culture in governance structures.

“A lack of political leadership on these matters and the level of churn in the role of Transport Minister, as initially identified by island communities, is unhelpful. Ferry-dependent communities need a champion in the Scottish Government.”

The same report suggests the direct award ‘on this one occasion’ of a ten-year contract to CalMac for a bundled Clyde and Hebrides ferry service.

But, it says: “A direct award is a privilege and with it must come great responsibility for competent stewardship of Clyde and Hebridean ferry services during this period.

“Our recommendations on the next CHFS contract are therefore caveated on the Scottish Government, as the owners of CalMac, ensuring that it delivers real improvements for communities.

“Evidence suggests the current tripartite arrangement is not working and must be reviewed.”

Angus Campbell said that the ferries communities board had already been asking that existing contract arrangements should be reviewed, even in the 16 months left to run before any contract renewal.

He said: “We’ve been asking not just for a new contract, but that even in the year’s remaining contract is there anything that can be done to improve it?

“We have ideas, particularly of how success is measured and how you measure performance, but again there should be opportunities to ensure that communities are represented in the specification of a contract.”

The Project Neptune consultation report, with nine key recommendations on future governance, is expected to be published by Transport Scotland imminently.